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Hip to be square
Nestled in amongst some traditional homes on Stelly’s Cross Road in Central Saanich is a unique log house, a show home for Van Isle Ecolog Homes.
Owner Hermann Thoene built it two years ago as he was getting his new business off the ground. He lives there with his family, has a rental unit on the lower floor and it is still visited by many potential customers wanting to see what a square-log house looks and feels like.
On first glance, it appears to look very much like a traditional log house. But look again and you notice the logs used are square. Thoene says they are cut that way on purpose, from hemlock and Douglas fir sourced from Vancouver Island and custom cut by Cowichan Lake Timber. Being square, they fit together well and quickly during construction. Pads are added between each log and they are further insulated and protected against water and the weather, like other log homes.
The result is unique in look and the houses themselves retain heat very well. During a tour of his Central Saanich house, Thoene pointed out with an Energuide efficiency rating of 79, his houses stay warm much longer than traditional post-and-beam construction.
I’m able to use my wood stove and use only two cords of wood each winter to heat my house,” he said.
The interior is bright (Thoene used a much lighter stain than for the exterior) and uses the space well — it’s a three bedroom, two bathroom upper level. The logs give the home a lot of character, as none of them are exactly the same.
Thoene said building the house in Central Saanich meant he had to follow strict municipal guidelines, but found the district to be supportive of the design.
“They cross every ‘t’ and dot every ‘i’ here,” he said, “but Central Saanich was positive on the design and the house itself.”
It’s unlikely, however, that Thoene would be able to build entire neighbourhoods of such houses. Since he started the business, the market has been soft and he averages one or two homes built each year. The latest ones went up in Calgary and Saskatchewan. He said he’d love to build more of the houses on the Island, but he’s fighting the local economy and, to some extent, people’s unfamiliarity with building a home from the ground—up.
“People sometimes need to see what they’re going to get,” he explained. “they want to see a place first and they want to know what it will cost. Often, builders don’t give them very accurate prices and that can be concerning.”
Thoene is a computer programmer by trade, who had worked with a friend in Ontario who has his own square log home business. Using those designs and manufacturing techniques, Thoene started Van Isle Ecolog Homes on the Island. He now designs houses for customers and co-ordinated the collection of building materials from his contracted saw mill and other suppliers. From there, he can help clients select a builder and other contractors.
He encourages buyers to find a builder they trust, one with experience and excellent references. And if a customer is handy or experienced themselves, building an Ecolog Home can be done quite easily, Thoene said. He built his own home, along with an experienced friend.
Thoene has some 30 detailed floor plans for a variety of house designs online at www.ecolog-homes.ca. As well, he can help a client design their own, unique house.
While Thoene is content with designing and getting one or two homes built each year, he does want to grow his business to two to three new homes on the Island each year. Right now, however, he’s waiting out the Island economy and using his show home to attract potential customers to the log home lifestyle.